Jolandie Rust

Jolandie Rust is the latest addition in the Legends series, rightfully so on account of her remarkable achievement of being the first woman to circumnavigate the continent of Africa solo on her BMW F650 GS Dakar. Her images and stories are truly inspirational. We’ll get to read the entire story when her book is out but until then this interview should be a cool preview of what’s to come! [Rashmi Tambe, Editor]

Women Who Ride: Motorcycling legend Jolandie Rust in Namibia en route to Ais-Ais

Name: Jolandie Rust
Age: 30
Country: South Africa
Languages: English, Afrikaans, French
Years Riding: 2
Height: 5’4”
Current motorcycles: BMW F650GS Dakar
Past motorcycles: Bashan 250 Xplode, Kawasaki KLR650
Riding Gear: BMW adventure gear
Kms Per Year: 30 000 km (~ 28,600 miles)
Published: Do It Now, FIM-Africa, IOL


Please introduce yourself. I’m a thirty-year-old born and bred proud South African. I was born a dreamer and later turned professional adventurer. I love nothing more than riding my bike. It brings me endless pleasure getting on my bike and just hitting the road, be it to the shop or through foreign countries.

Describe your path into motorcycling. My first ever memory around motorcycling is from high school. My father had bought my little brother and I a 125cc scooter to ride to school and back. We took turns driving and riding pillion. One misty wet winter morning we were on our way to school. I was riding and he was on pillion. As we neared a stop sign I made the mistake of pulling the front brake while I had the wheel on the white painted line. Needless to say we both went flying. Lying there on the road we just burst out laughing, both knowing what a stupid mistake it was! This day remains a fond memory of my early days riding and learning invaluable lessons the hard way! Oddly enough, my brother and I have only ever ridden together on our bikes once since then.

Years later, I decided to try and be the first woman to circumnavigate the African continent on a bicycle solo. However, I was robbed of my bicycle and almost all my gear in Northern Angola.  After the robbery I had this feeling burning inside of me and it was saying: I have to start over on a motorcycle.

I bought my first proper bike – a Kawasaki KLR 650. It was the first time I got onto a proper motorcycle! I remember the day it was delivered. I was so nervous but knew I had to just get on it and ride. And I did.  

On 24 November 2013 I became the first woman in history to have circumnavigated the entire African continent solo on a motorcycle. I rode 45 000 kilometers through 28 countries over a period of about a year and a half.  

How did you research and prepare for the trip? The most research I did was in the way of paperwork I needed for the trip. Logistically, it was challenging to say the least. Visas always posing the biggest challenge, especially seeing as some visas are valid from date of entry and others are valid from date of issue. So you need to work out your itinerary accordingly and if you should find yourself with a visa that has expired, you’d have to get really creative about getting an extension or applying for a new visa. Great problem solving exercises. I feel like I’m an expert at it by now!

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust in Angola on the Namib deserrt

Jolandie Rust in Angola on the Namib deserrt

Why did you pick the BMW Dakar? I decided on the BMW Dakar as I wanted a bike that was reliable and easy to maintain. I started out on a different bike and that bike proved to be very unreliable as it’s engine seized at only 3 500 kilometers. Then I got my DAX. I am soooooo grateful for that change as it’s the best thing that could’ve happened. In the end the BMW was just the absolute perfect bike for this journey! I never had any mechanical issues and mostly serviced the bike myself. It’s never let me down! The ultimate in reliability! For a year and a half and thousands of kilometers this bike was my sole constant companion. My bike is the only entity that bore witness to my journey. That means we’re bonded for life. It’s been a reliable companion. 

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust stops in Tunisia

Jolandie Rust stops in Tunisia

Can you describe the route you took and why you picked it? I had no particular route in mind. I wanted to ride around Africa…that was the only prerequisite. Ride around Africa in a clockwise direction. The reason why I chose to go in a clockwise direction is because I wanted to get through the difficult sections first and leave the ‘easy’ bits for the end. (smiles)

South Africa -> Namibia -> Angola -> Congo -> Gabon -> Cameroon -> Nigeria -> Benin -> Togo -> Ghana -> Cote D’Ivoire -> Mali -> Mauritania -> Western Sahara -> Gabon -> Morocco -> Algeria -> Tunisia -> Libya -> Egypt -> Sudan -> Ethiopia -> Kenya -> Tanzania -> Mozambique -> Suth Africa



On the days preceding your ride, what were your biggest fears and what things were you most excited to see? Wow, such a mix of emotions. One thing I can say is that, throughout the journey from before I pushed off, up until I rolled back over the line from where I had started, I always kept one vivid picture in mind. And that’s reaching the finish line! I looked forward to crossing the equator, experiencing the jungles of Gabon, entering the Sahara, reaching the opposite point of where I started – the most northern point in Africa, situated near Bizerte in Tunisia. I looked forward to seeing the pyramids for the first time, star gazing on the deck of the renowned ferry on the Nile between Aswan and Wadi-Halfa, experiencing the openness of Sudan and just taking in Ethiopia’s natural beauty in all it’s splendor. Overcoming the dreaded ‘Hell Road’ in northern Kenya and playing in the sand in Mozambique and then, finally, the final border crossing onto home soil back into my beautiful South Africa!

My fears were never based on anything like animals attacking me in the wild. My fears were always based on the human element seeing as I was putting myself in a position of extreme vulnerability. I had a few close calls but in the end I learned that it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust at the beginning of her journey

Jolandie Rust at the beginning of her journey

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust visits the pyramids of Egypt

Jolandie Rust visits the pyramids of Egypt

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust crosses the Mauritania border

Jolandie Rust crosses the Mauritania border

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust in Tunisia on her ride around Africa

Jolandie Rust in Tunisia on her ride around Africa

Did you do your own maintenance and repairs on the bike? Yes, I service my bike myself. A good friend of mine, Kurt Beine, taught me almost everything I know and gave me my first lessons. Now I’m fairly comfortable with doing just about anything on my bike and prefer to do so. You learn so much and it’s great experience for when you’re “out there”. Besides, with technology nowadays you can watch videos and read up on anything you need to do. Having said that, nothing beats experience. Like now, I’m busy replacing the head gasket on my bike. Which means pretty much taking the entire engine out. I’ve come a long way by way of mechanical knowledge.  

Was it lonely to be out on the road for a year and a half? I can honestly say that I can count the times that I felt lonely on one hand. The thing is, when you’re traveling solo, you meet so many people on the road that you don’t have time to be lonely. Everywhere I went people wanted to chat to me to find out more about the who, where, what and why.  So I was so busy making new friends all over the show that I never really had time to be lonely. :)

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust in Nigeria

Jolandie Rust in Nigeria

Did you camp along the way? When I was still cycling (on a bicycle) around Africa I camped wild every single night. I loved the experience and actually miss it a lot. On the motorbike I never really needed to camp as I was always offered a place to stay by local people or local motorcycle clubs etc. I think I camped a total of maybe three times on the entire trip. If I could do one thing differently on the trip it would be that. I would’ve camped more! Though my favorite camping spots I did camp at were in Angolan bush and next to Lake Malawi.

What was the most difficult road you had to traverse? The sandy roads in Angola can be rather challenging and exciting all at the same time. That and the famous ‘Hell Road’ in northern Kenya was rather difficult as I had to ride about 270 kilometers of awful corrugated road without a rear shock breaker.

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust rides in Kenya on the "Hell Road"

Jolandie Rust rides in Kenya on the “Hell Road”


Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust in Congo en route to Gabon

Jolandie Rust in Congo en route to Gabon

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust rides off-road

Jolandie Rust rides off-road

Did you ever feel like you were in physical danger? There were a few close calls, ranging from being taped to a chair with a gun against my head in Angola, to being attacked in hotel rooms in Mauritania and Libya. Luckily none of these events led to any serious physical harm done. Other than that I never really felt like I was in any immediate danger. People are mainly very friendly and kind and helpful all over. Reality is that you will find some shady elements, no matter where you go in the world. What matters is how you deal with it.

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust at the Tunisia-Algeria border

Jolandie Rust at the Tunisia-Algeria border

You traveled through some pretty politically fraught countries. Did you see anything that saddened you? Oh yes! I can recall two instances where I had tears building up from deep within. The first was in Libya when I was taken on a tour of Sirte, which was one of the most heavily hit cities during the Gaddafi ousting. Seeing the dilapidated buildings and listening to stories told to me by locals of how their families were affected by the Libyan Revolution were really touching and saddening as well. What lifted my spirits were seeing how these people still managed to keep a smile on their faces and exude optimism when talking about what the future might hold for them in Libya.

The second was seeing how the revolution in Egypt affected people from all walks of life, especially those depending on the tourism industry. People were desperate, everywhere I went. Desperate to make a living. Desperate to just have a better quality of life. Desperate to paint a better picture of Egypt than the media was showing to the outside world at the time. I wished I could help in some way. It broke my heart seeing people’s spirits broken like that.

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust at a military checkpoint in Egypt

Jolandie Rust at a military checkpoint in Egypt

Sirte, Libya

Sirte, Libya

What struck you most during your travels? The fact that motorcycling really brings people together. No matter who you are, where you’re from, or what your background may be, if you’re a motorcycle rider, it immediately makes you a member of a very big and extensive global family! I guess I can back this up with a  story of riding in Libya, a recently war-torn country, during the Arab spring – as a non-Arab, non-Muslim female, on my own! I was met with nothing but respect and kindness by all the motorcycle riders I met throughout the country.

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust with friends in Angola

Jolandie Rust with friends in Angola

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust rides through the Ethiopian countryside

Jolandie Rust rides through the Ethiopian countryside

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust stopped in Morocco en route to Dakhla

Jolandie Rust stopped in Morocco en route to Dakhla

And what was your most joyous memory? There are so many and all of them include friends, old and new. But I guess if I were to choose just ONE memory that stands out…it will always be the day I crossed the finish line back on the 24th of November 2013. It was such an intensely emotional day! I wasn’t expecting to be so emotional, but in the end I absolutely cried my heart out! Afterwards I realized it wasn’t so much only because of realizing what I had just achieved, but more than that, in that moment, I realized that I wasn’t afraid of anything anymore and that I can do absolutely anything I set out to do!

Women Who Ride: Jolandie Rust at the end of her epic ride around Africa

Jolandie Rust at the end of her epic ride around Africa

On to some lighter questions now. What do you do when you’re at home and not riding? I ride. LoL. I ride almost every day of my life. Mainly because I absolutely love it, but also because I don’t have any other form of transport. LoL.

Other than that I like to spend time socializing with friends, being outside and appreciating beautiful Mother Nature, reading, watching movies, playing guitar and planning the next challenge. :)

What was the last book you read that was inspirational or enjoyable? Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon

What or to whom do you turn to when you need inspiration? I’m a big fan of the ‘pep talk’. Over the years I’ve learned that all the inspiration, wisdom and motivation I need lives right inside of me. Sometimes all it takes is taking a step back, breathing in deeply and just gaining some perspective. Other than that I turn to women who challenge our modern day society’s beliefs of what is possible by pushing the boundaries and doing extraordinary things. Like all the women here on this wonderful site. ;)

Do you have a favorite food? I have an appreciation for good food and fine dining at times. I love French cuisine, Italian food and also Spanish food. And South African food of course!!

Do you have any motorcycling heroes? Ted Simon. Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor. People have mixed emotions about their Long Way trips but I think they opened up the world of adventure motorcycle traveling in a big way and loved the series. Tiffany Coates. Alicia Sornosa. Lois Pryce. Lisa Thomas. Dano Pilar Moreno. I can go on and on with my list!

What’s next for Jolandie Rust? The book, of course. BMW GS Trophy 2016 and then the Dakar Rally! Perhaps in 2017.

Do you have any advice for potential adventurers who might be reading this? Just do it! Don’t wait until it’s too late. There’s no better time than now! You will have challenges, but just remember: ‘Whatever you do, never ever give up’!

Thoughts about the Global Women Who Ride Project? I think it’s a fantastic project and I’m so grateful for a platform that recognizes and celebrates female riders. I believe that there’s a great need for such a platform and I know people from all walks of life will definitely gain a great deal from the experiences shared! It’s awesome! favicon